2.22.2006

U.S. Announces Syria Democracy Program

In a meaningful step, the U.S. has decided to aid Syrian democracy groups through its Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) established by President Bush in 2002 to promote reform in the Middle East.

I can read this move as a qualitative step in the U.S. policy toward the Syrian Ba'athist regime, which got furious by this move.

This U.S. offer, I believe, has symbolic nature rather than practical. It has been intended to be a clear message to the Syrian regime and a reminder of the many U.S. options still unemployed. The regional implications and context must not be absent in reading this U.S. step.

The U.S. has successfully applied the isolation and pressure policy toward the Syrian regime for long months. In spite of the short period, this policy was effective and fruitful at many fronts including the "semi-liberation" of Lebanon. Nevertheless, the U.S. policy toward Syria, in general, is alike a crisis management rather than a comprehensive, integrated and coherent policy based on defined goals and available means.

In the current complicated regional situation in the Middle East through the conflict between the old regional system before the Iraq liberation, backed by totalitarian and authoritarian forces, and the new geopolitics of the Middle East after the liberation of Iraq and the continuing liberation of Lebanon, backed by the change in the American policy and vision of the region derived from the Bush's Forward Strategy of Freedom. I do not think that the same U.S. policy toward Syria would be productive and constructive as regards the U.S. and the Syrian people's interests and the regional wellbeing and stability.

At this stage, the intentions and inclinations of the U.S. policy must turned into definite goals in a coherent and deliberate policy. The continuation of the current deal by the U.S. would cause counterproductive results through more regional instability and insecurity besides the destructive consequences inside Syria -- think carefully about the post-Gulf War ΙΙ Iraq.

For the United States, it is decision time. The U.S. must define what is required from the Syrian regime or from/for Syria and should work seriously on that. The choices of the U.S. are limited now to the showdown or the compromise if possible. For settling the Syrian issue, the current regional and international situation is appropriate and I doubt that the regional situation would be more suitable in the future.

While the U.S. is waiting for prospective events and results, we are loosing our country, which is already ruined enough. Moreover, if the current ambiguous and incoherent U.S.-Syria policy persisted for some years, we will see another Iraq we could avoid, I believe.

May history teach us?

Here is the related information on the Syria Democracy Program Announcement:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

State Department To Grant $5 Million to Syrian Reform Projects

Grants administered through Middle East Partnership Initiative

The State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) announced February 17 that it will award $5 million in grants to Syrian reformers seeking to promote the rule of law, government accountability, free access to information, freedom of speech and free, fair elections.

"The people of Syria deserve the opportunity to build a better future and to live in freedom,” said the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney.

Applications for grants may be submitted through the “Current Opportunities” section of the MEPI Web site. The Syria Democracy Program Announcement with further details is available on the State Department Web site.

Following is the text of a State Department media note on the program:

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
February 17, 2006

Media Note

U.S. Investing $5 Million to Support Reform in Syria

To support freedom and democracy in Syria, the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) announced today it will award $5 million in grants to accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.

The grants, which are expected to range from $100,000 to $1,000,000, will build up Syrian civil society and support organizations promoting democratic practices such as the rule of law; government accountability; access to independent sources of information; freedom of association and speech; and free, fair and competitive elections.

"The United States stands firmly with courageous men and women struggling for their freedom across the Middle East, including in Syria," said Elizabeth Cheney, principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. "The people of Syria deserve the opportunity to build a better future and to live in freedom."

President George W. Bush launched MEPI in 2002 to promote positive reform in the Middle East and North Africa. The initiative has received more than $293 million to support more than 350 programs in 14 countries and the Palestinian territories.

To see the request for grant applications for Syria, go to www.mepi.state.gov and click on Current Opportunities and Syria Democracy Program Announcement. The deadline for concept papers is March 30.

(end text)
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Syria Democracy Program Announcement

DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
Office of Middle East Partnership Initiatives (MEPI)
Funding Opportunity Title: Syria Democracy Program Announcement
Announcement Type: Pre-applications
CFDA Number: 19.500
Due Date for Pre-Applications: March 30, 2006
Federal Agency Contact: Anna Mary Portz
Email: nea-grants@state.gov
Telephone number: 202-776-8500

I. Funding Opportunity Description: The Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) announces an open competition for grant applications that support democratic governance and reform in Syria.

This represents a new MEPI funding initiative and submissions must outline activities linked to reform and demonstrate how the proposed approach would build on expertise that already exists in the MENA region to achieve sustainable impact in Syria. Submitting organizations (and any members of coalitions) must articulate capacity and expertise in civil society programming, and knowledge of local conditions and needs. Submissions must also demonstrate awareness of other ongoing reform programs in the region (MEPI-funded and otherwise).

Strengthening and multiplying the number of organizations engaging in democratic practices such as the rule of law, government accountability, access to independent sources of information, freedom of association and speech, and free, fair and competitive elections will increase the contributions of Syrians to their own futures and those of their society. MEPI has particular interest in supporting programs that are innovative and that meet needs and opportunities not already addressed by current donor funding.

Accordingly, this request seeks projects to broaden and deepen within Syria the means and modes of publicly expressed and responsible citizen views on reform in all its aspects. The range of possible themes and issues includes, but is not limited to:



  • freedom of association and the right of citizens to access independent sources of information; the right to advocate responsibly on important issues and debate ideas freely with other citizens and governments without fear of retribution, including through democratically organized and legal political parties;
  • the right to participate in local and national governance processes;
  • the right to transparent and effective government services, including regular public accountability for monies spent;
  • the right to speedy, fair, and transparent access to courts of law to settle civil, commercial, and criminal matters;

MEPI seeks to strengthen the community of Syrian reformers at the local and national levels, and support reformers with demonstrated commitment as they work to build broader alliances with new stakeholder groups around issues of core democratic values.

MEPI encourages local organizations to form coalitions that would work together on democratic reform issues and priorities, and share information and expertise with one another. Coalitions could include NGOs, trade unions, chambers of commerce, journalists, professional associations, and academic institutions.

MEPI supports programs that link reformers within and across national boundaries and use local organizational capacity to leverage opportunities to advance reform. When a U.S. or European based NGO proposes to leads a project, we require partnerships that will contribute to local organizations that are suitable, vibrant, and strongly led.

Background Information about MEPI: MEPI is a Presidential initiative to promote positive change in the Middle East and North Africa through diplomatic efforts and through results-oriented programs, both regional and specific to individual countries. Reform is of strategic, long-term importance to the national security interests of the United States and to the U.S. goal of ensuring that the people of the region experience the benefits that come with more open economies, greater educational opportunities, and political freedom. A key element of MEPI is creating links and partnerships with Arab, U.S. civil society, and governments to jointly achieve sustainable reform.

Electronic Link to Full Announcement: Go to http://www.mepi.state.gov/, click on Current Opportunities, click on Syria Democracy Program Announcement.

II. Award Information:

Funding Instrument Type: Grants

Anticipated Total Program Funding: $5 million in Federal Fiscal Year 2006

NEA expects to award grants ranging from $100,000 to $1,000,000. Awards, initially, may be funded for up to two years, with an option to extend for up to one additional year based on the achievements in the first budget period, availability of funds, and the best interests of the U.S. Government.

NEA reserves the right to award less, or more than the funds described, in the absence of worthy applications, or under such other circumstances as may be deemed to be in the best interest of the U.S. Government.

Ceiling on amount of individual Awards: $1,000,000

Floor of Individual Award Amounts: $100,000

Project and Budget Periods: These funds are intended for start-up initiatives. Proposed project periods may be up to 3 years. The initial budget period may be up to 24 months. Applications for continuation grants funded under these awards, beyond the initial budget period, will be entertained on a noncompetitive basis, subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the grantee, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of the U.S. Government.

III. Eligibility Information: Eligible applicants include any registered non-governmental organization.

MEPI encourages pre-applications from partnerships or consortia led by or including local organizations. In this context, NEA defines partnership as a negotiated arrangement among organizations that provides for a substantive, collaborative role for each of the partners in the planning and implementation of the project. Pre-Applications intending to represent a coalition of providers should be prepared to provide, if requested, a signed partnership agreement stating:

  • An intent to commit or receive resources from the prospective partner(s) contingent upon receipt of funds;
  • How the partnership arrangement advances the objectives of the project;
  • Supporting documentation identifying the resources, experience, and expertise of the partner(s);
  • Evidence that the partner(s) has been involved in the planning of the project;
  • Clarification of the role of the partner(s) in the implementation of the project, evaluation, and sustainability.

Additional Information on Eligibility: All Federal assistance recipients must have a Dun & Bradstreet Number prior to funds disbursement per a new U.S. Government policy (published in the Federal Register June 27, 2003) applicable to all grant recipients.

A DUNS number may be acquired at no cost by calling the dedicated toll-free DUNS number request line at 1-866-705-5711 or by requesting on-line at www.dnb.com

IV. Pre-Application Submission and Deadline: Concept papers are not to exceed seven pages, may be submitted in English or Arabic, and must include an estimate of the comprehensive annual cost of tasks and activities projected in the pre-application. While a full budget is not required at this stage, one may be attached to the pre-application.

Selected pre-applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal in English for funding consideration and may receive technical assistance in this process.

Submission: Syria Democracy pre-application materials may be submitted to the U.S. Department of State, Anna Mary Portz by e-mail sent as an attachment to nea-grants@state.gov, or apply online via http://www.grants.gov, or to the mailing address: c/o Room 6258, 2201 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC, 20520. Submissions shall be considered as meeting an announced deadline if they are submitted before 4 p.m. on the due date.

V. Review and Selection Process: Submissions under this announcement should include information addressing the following criteria. Each pre-application will be evaluated and rated on the basis of these evaluation criteria that are designed to assess the quality of the proposed project, and to determine the likelihood of its success. The criteria are closely related and are considered as a whole in judging the overall quality of a pre-application. Only those pre-applications scoring highly enough will be invited to submit a full application for U.S. Government funds.

Results or Benefits Expected—The applicant clearly describes the results and benefits to be achieved. The applicant identifies how improvement will be measured on key indicators and provides milestones indicating progress. Proposed outcomes are tangible and achievable within the grant project period. (30 points)

Increased Local Leadership, Ownership, Innovation, and Sustainability – The applicant describes how the project will increase the skills and abilities of local leaders and their organizations to advocate effectively with citizens, civil society groups, business groups, media and government officials in support of reform. Innovative initiatives to build reform networks, improve the effective use of media and volunteer campaigns in reform outreach, and broaden the base of support for reform across the many sectors of society, including the religious community and religious leaders, are detailed. A key element of program design is sustainability, progressively achieved throughout the project, by innovative advances in local and regional leadership and societal ownership of reform efforts. (20 points)

Approach—The applicant must demonstrate that its strategy and plan are likely to achieve the proposed results; that proposed activities and timeframes are rapid, reasonable and feasible for Syria. The plan describes in detail how the proposed activities will be accomplished as well as how the proposed approach relates to other successful or on-going democracy initiatives in the region. (20 points)

Organization Profiles—Where collaborators are proposed, the applicant describes the rationale for the collaboration, each partner’s respective role, and how the coalition will enhance the accomplishment of the project goals. In all cases, the applicant describes joint planning consultation efforts undertaken. Individual organization staffs, including volunteers, are well qualified. (20 points)

VI. Award Administration and National Policy Requirements. Those applicants selected for award based on the pre-application and full proposal stages of competition under this RFA will receive grants provided that they execute a bilateral grant agreement containing terms and conditions prescribed by U.S. law and regulation.

2.17.2006

U.S. Democracy Promotion, a Round-up

Here is a recent policy watch of the U.S. democracy promotion efforts and attitudes:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

Foreign Affairs Budget Would Foster Freedom, Democracy, Rice Says

Secretary of state says U.S. must support principle of democratic processes

By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 aims to support a foreign policy "devoted to the creation of a more hospitable environment for the forward march of freedom and democracy," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

The secretary was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the president’s proposed $31.9 billion budget for international operations for fiscal year 2007, which begins October 1. The proposal submitted to Congress would increase the fiscal 2007 spending approximately $3 billion from the amount Congress approved for fiscal year 2006.

In opening remarks at February 15 hearing, Rice said that democratic processes around the world "must be supported."

"Democratic transitions are indeed difficult," and especially in the Middle East, Rice said. "But people have to have their voice, and the United States must stand for a principle that democratic processes, no matter how difficult, are always preferable to the false stability of dictatorship."

Rice also said the United States congratulates the Palestinian people for holding a January 25 election "largely free of violence and largely believed to be free and fair."

"The Palestinian people voted for change," Rice continued. "We believe that they voted for change against long-term corrupt practices that had made their lives difficult and their progress difficult." Now, she said, the winning side -- the political wing of the terrorist group Hamas -- "has both an obligation and a choice … to fulfill the Palestinian people's desire for a better life."

Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, disarm as a militia and renounce violence, she said, "because only under those circumstances can there be true international support for … the next Palestinian government."

IRAN

Turning to Iran, the secretary characterized that regime's policies as destabilizing, in that they "support terrorism and violent extremism."

The Iranian regime has "ideological ambitions and policies that are, frankly, a challenge to the kind of Middle East that I think we would all like to see -- one of tolerance, one of democracy," she said.

The United States will actively confront the policies of this Iranian regime while trying "to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom," Rice said. She charged the Iranian government with "toxic statements and confrontational behavior," especially regarding its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"No one wants to deny the Iranian people or the Iranian nation civil nuclear power," Rice said, noting the U.S. diplomacy has resulted in a decision of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors to refer the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council.

The United States will continue to develop "sensible security measures" such as the Proliferation Security Initiative "to try and deny to regimes like Iran, North Korea and others the materials for covert programs that threaten the international system."

The United States will also work to use money already approved by Congress for fiscal year 2006 "to develop support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists," Rice said. She added that the administration planned to seek $75 million in supplemental funds in the fiscal 2006 budget to support democracy in Iran.

Rice said that money would enable the United States to:

• Increase support for democracy and improve U.S. radio broadcasting,
• Begin satellite television broadcasting,
• Increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and
• Bolster U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

"In addition, I will be notifying that we plan to reprogram funds in 2007 to support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people," she said.

Another U.S. goal for Iran is to expand educational exchanges with young Iranians. In the 1970s, 200,000 Iranians studied in the United States, Rice said, adding that just 2,000 do so now. "We must change this and we will," Rice said.

A transcript of Rice’s opening remarks to the Senate panel and a related fact sheet are available on the State Department Web site.
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State Department Wants $75 Million To Promote Democracy in Iran

U.S. officials hope to focus world attention on Iran's "democracy deficit"

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The State Department plans to request a $75 million supplemental appropriation during 2006 to support democracy promotion activities in Iran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress February 15.

“That money would enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public diplomacy efforts,” Rice told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on the Bush administration’s foreign affairs budget proposals.

A senior State Department official, speaking at a February 15 background briefing on U.S. support for democracy in Iran, acknowledged that there are limitations to what the United States can do in Iran given its lack of diplomatic ties, but added, “What we can do is show support for those in Iranian society … who wish to see a different type of Iran, who wish to see further democracy and freedoms both for the press as well as for political figures [and] individual citizens.”

Another senior State Department official at the same briefing said the United States already has programs in place supporting Iranian labor unions, dissidents and human rights activists. The official said civil society organization is the key to effecting positive change in Iran.

At the Senate hearing, Rice said, “We think the Iranian people deserve to live in freedom, and if you watch how people across the globe over the course of the last couple of decades in particular have been able to rise up and call for their freedom, it’s been through organization.”

She added, “I think the Solidarity model is a good one, where you had numbers of people come together. You had the labor unions in Poland come together, but they also then were joined by the academics, by human rights activists. When people organize themselves and really become unified in calling for change, then you get the change that you need, and we believe that the Iranian people deserve change.”

The State Department would use $50 million of the supplemental funds, if they are approved by Congress, to establish around-the-clock satellite television and radio broadcasts into Iran. An additional $15 million would go to support the development of civic organizations within Iran. Iranian students and professionals who wish to visit the United States would benefit from an additional $5 million in funding for exchange programs. Finally, the department would devote an additional $5 million to public diplomacy efforts aimed at Iran, including its Persian language Web site.

The State Department official indicated that the United States is not planning to work with existing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Iran because, as she said, they all have been infiltrated by government agents.

“The challenge is to help to organize other networks and help to take some of the extremely brave people who are risking their lives to speak out against the regime, who are standing up to the regime, and help to give them the tools to organize themselves and to form new groups that are not infiltrated by the government, that we can work with,” she said.

For the time being, she said, the State Department will work through American and international NGOs and is negotiating an umbrella license with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to circumvent legal delays on providing U.S. government funding to organizations that have dealings with Iran.

Rice also told the Senate committee that she intends to bring greater international pressure on the Iranian regime to address the full spectrum of its domestic and foreign policies.

“We must now expand the international consensus on the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions to address the full scope of its threatening policies,” she said.

A senior State Department official said that in addition to the nuclear issue, the United States hopes to focus greater international attention on Iran’s support for terrorism and extremism, which destabilizes the region, and its lack of political freedom.

He said that the secretary would carry this message to the Middle East when she travels there February 20-24. “What the secretary would like to do is broaden that international discussion and discuss with the Arab countries – who obviously have a lot of concerns about Iran – not just the nuclear issue, but the terrorism issue, the aggressive Iranian foreign policy in the region as well as the democracy deficit,” he said.

He said State Department officials also will raise these issues during an upcoming G8 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, United States and Russia -- meeting in Moscow.

“We would hope that countries that have normal relations with Iran would reflect on those relations and would use the instruments at their disposal, in terms of normal economic trade relations, to begin to think what they could do to push back on what has been a radical series of proposal out of the government of Iran since August 4, [2005]” he said, referring to the date Iran’s president, Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, was elected.
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U.S. Commemorates Anniversary of Hariri Assassination in Lebanon

Secretary Rice says Syria must cooperate fully with ongoing U.N. investigation

The United States commemorated the one-year anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri February 14 and stated its solidarity with the people of Lebanon in the effort to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death.

President Bush hailed the late prime minister as “a great Lebanese patriot who worked to rebuild a free, independent, and prosperous Lebanon after years of brutal civil war.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "we reiterate our unconditional support for the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission's work and the urgent need for Syria's full and complete cooperation with the investigation."

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said that the sad occasion for Lebanon "recalls to us why it is important that all members of the United Nations comply strictly with resolutions 1559 and 1595 and all the related resolutions so we can get to the bottom of who assassinated Rafik Hariri. And I am confident that we will. That is our determination to do that."

Syria's continued supply of weapons to armed groups inside Lebanon, Bolton added, is in violation of Security Council resolution 1559.

Following are the texts of Bush’s and Rice's statements:

(begin text)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 14, 2005

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

One year ago today, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Mr. Hariri was a great Lebanese patriot who worked to rebuild a free, independent, and prosperous Lebanon after years of brutal civil war. Our thoughts are with the people of Lebanon as they mark this anniversary.

Lebanon has continued to make progress in the year since Mr. Hariri's murder, thanks to the foundation of freedom he laid and the determination of the Lebanese people. Lebanon has conducted a free and fair parliamentary election and begun economic reforms. Great challenges remain, and the United States will continue to stand with the people of Lebanon as they strive to build a free and democratic future.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
February 14, 2006

Statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

First Anniversary of the Assassination of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri

As we commemorate the first anniversary of the brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, MP Basil Fuleihan, seven body guards and 13 innocent bystanders, our thoughts are with the people of Lebanon and the families of the innocent victims who continue to live with the consequences of that terrorist attack. We recall today the legacy of Rafik Hariri who symbolizes Lebanon's resilience after decades of civil war and turmoil and its determination to rebuild itself into a free, democratic and prosperous nation. Those who killed Mr. Hariri and 21 others one year ago today tried to suppress that work and ensure that Lebanon remained subject to foreign domination. They have failed to do so, due to the foundation of freedom laid by Mr. Hariri and the determination of the Lebanese people.

The Lebanese people have accomplished much over the past year: They have compelled Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon, and they have held free and fair parliamentary elections. Much remains to be done, but the forces of repression will not stifle the voices of freedom, and the Lebanese people will prevail.

The United States and the international community remain united with the people of Lebanon in determination to bring those responsible for this heinous crime and other subsequent acts of terrorism to justice. In this regard, we reiterate our unconditional support for the UN International Independent Investigation Commission's work and the urgent need for Syria's full and complete cooperation with the investigation.

The United States, and the international community, stand with the Lebanese people as they work to reassert their independence and strengthen their democracy. We will not be deterred from supporting Lebanon's call for national dignity, truth, and justice.

(end text)
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U.S. Wants Rights Abusers Barred from U.N. Human Rights Council

Council should not be haven for worst offenders, says State Department's Lagon

By Carol Walker
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Liberal democracies around the world need to speak outagainst human rights abuses and not allow "spoilers" to squelch them, aState Department official says.

"It is deplorable when countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe, which lack thewill to protect the human rights of their own people, are charged withprotecting the human rights of all people," Mark Lagon, deputy assistantsecretary of state for international organization affairs, told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus February 7.

Lagon updated congressional leaders on the proposed U.N. Human Rights Council, a body he hopes will replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

"The Commission on Human Rights has become a safe haven for the world's worst human rights violators, who use their membership to protect themselves from reproach," Lagon said. Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cuba, all countries withpoor records on human rights, are members of the current commission.

The proposed new Human Rights Council would include 45 member states elected by a two-thirds majority vote of the 191-member U.N. General Assembly. Elected country members would be subject to a human-rights reviewat least once during the three-year term.

"We must do more in order to demonstrate that there are some standards that every country must meet to merit membership in the U.N.'s human rights body," Lagon said. "We support an exclusionary clause that would prohibit human rights violators from serving on the Council, barring countries under U.N. Security Council sanctions for human rights violations or terrorism from the Human Rights Council."

Currently there are 53 members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights,which meets once a year for six weeks in Geneva. More than 3,000 delegatesfrom member and observer states and from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) participate in the Geneva meeting, or "circus," according to William Davis, director of the U.N. Information Center in Washington.

"U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has acknowledged that this fresh startis badly needed," Davis told congressional staff members and leaders. "The Human Rights Council provides an opportunity to restore the United Nations' credibility on human rights."

Lagon said the U.N. reform proposal calls for a Human Rights Council,which would be smaller than the current commission, to meet four times peryear for a total of 12 weeks. The proposed panel would be able to be moreresponsive to human rights violations as they arise, he added. The United States has donated $2 million to the United Nations' democracy fund tosupport the new council.

Lagon also said the new council must have a mandate on how to deal withgross violators. "There needs to be an option to condemn governments that routinely repress their people."

Davis said he hoped the U.N. General Assembly would vote on the resolution to establish the new Human Rights Council by February 15, so that the existing Human Rights Commission could be replaced in time for the March 13 meeting in Geneva.

In 1947, former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was elected chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, which authored the Universal Declarationof Human Rights adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Human Rights Day is celebrated around the world on December 10 each year.
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Russian NGO Law Criticized by State Department Official

Nongovernmental organizations are not your enemy, Lowenkron tells Russia

Washington -- Russia is working against democratic trends as a new law takes effect restricting activities of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), according to Barry F. Lowenkron, the State Department's assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on February 1.

The restrictions affect how NGOs raise and spend money in Russia. (See related article.)

"We have been above board in terms of helping Russians organize themselves in a whole range of activities, from helping the media, to the forming of political parties, to weighing in on their concerns," Lowenkron said. "Thisis what democracy is all about; this is what NGOs are all about."

Lowenkron said there is a misunderstanding in Russia about the roles of the United States and NGOs. Russian officials believe, he said, that the "U.S.government or the West directs the activities of NGOs in order to weaken Russia, or in order to advance, as one Russian said, 'your own geopolitical games in our neighborhood.' And nothing could be farther from the truth."

NGOs, including human rights groups and promoters of democracy, help localgroups organize themselves on a number of issues, especially elections.

"When NGOs ask for help -- when they ask for help in terms of how to organize, when they ask for help in terms of how to observe elections --then I think American taxpayers, or German taxpayers, or taxpayers anywhere around the world that support NGOs are very comfortable offering that,"Lowenkron said. "Nobody gets on a plane with sacks of money and flies into Kyiv [Ukraine] or any other capital and says, 'Here, go ahead and overthrowa legitimate order.'"

Lowenkron said NGOs are integral to international politics. "NGOs can support governments, they can criticize governments, but they should neverbe viewed as enemies of governments."
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Bush Pledges Active Foreign Policy To Promote Democracy

President discusses plan for Iraq, Iran in remarks

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- An active foreign policy that alleviates suffering and helps those most in need serves both the short and long-term interests of the United States, says President Bush.

"One reason to be active in the world is to spread peace," Bush said February 1 in a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, "If the United States were to withdraw, we'd miss an opportunity to make this world a more peaceful place for generations to come."

The president's remarks in Nashville marked the first of several speeches in which he will discuss his agenda for 2006 as laid out in his January 31 State of the Union address to Congress and the American people. In that address Bush called for the United States to engage the international community as a means of building prosperity, security, freedom and hope around the world.

BUSH OUTLINES U.S. STRATEGY FOR IRAQ

The president said victory in Iraq will be achieved when that nation is a self-sustaining democracy capable of governing and defending itself, as well as an ally in the War on Terror.

The goal is to help Iraq become “a country which will serve as a powerful example of liberty and freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for liberty and freedom,” Bush said.

"The Iraqis have shown incredible courage, and a strong desire to live in [a] democracy,” he said, citing successful elections in 2005 in which Iraqi voters not only ratified a constitution but chose legislators for the Council of Representatives.

“This young democracy has gone from tyranny -- a brutal dictator that killed or had killed thousands of people, to a country which had a transitional government in an election, to a country which wrote a progressive constitution … and had that constitution ratified, to a country in which 11 million people voted in elections last December,” he said.

Regarding security in Iraq, Bush said his administration would continue to focus on training Iraqi security forces.

"There is a great bravery amongst these Iraqi soldiers," he said. "Our job is to convert their desire to protect their new democracy into effective forces, and that's what we're doing."

The president lauded Iraqi security forces' success during the December 2005 elections as there was significantly lower violence than during the October 2005 elections.

Additionally, he noted U.S. commanders were turning over more Iraqi territory to Iraqi security forces to maintain. "As the Iraqis are capable of taking the fight to the enemy, we will reduce our troop levels," Bush said, adding that U.S. troop withdrawals will depend on recommendations from U.S. military commanders.

"We've defined victory, and now it's up to the commanders on the ground to help us achieve that victory," he said.

IRAN

The international community will remain unified in calling for Iran to abandon its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, Bush said.

[.....]

In a February 1 interview with the Associated Press, Bush said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about Iran and that the two countries share the same goal. Speaking to reporters en route to Nashville, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush voiced his support for a Russian plan that would limit Tehran’s access to nuclear material and waste that could be used to make a weapon, but still provide Iran with material for peaceful nuclear energy uses.

In his Nashville speech, Bush also echoed remarks from his State of the Union address that the United States seeks greater friendship with a free and democratic Iran.

"I believe that everybody desires to be free, and I just wanted to assure them [the Iranian people] that some day that they'll be able to have a choice in their government, and the United States looks forward to a friendship with a free and democratic Iran," Bush said of his message to the Iranian people.

In his State of the Union address, Bush said Iran is a nation “held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people” and “defying the world with its nuclear ambitions.”

A transcript of Bush’s Nashville speech is available on the White House Web site.
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Bush Says Muslims Turning Against Terrorists

President says number of U.S. allies growing in War on Terror

Washington –- The number of U.S. allies in the global War on Terror is growing and Muslims are turning against terrorists, whose tactics usually kill and maim innocents and fellow Muslims, President Bush says.

The president gave his assessment of the war against terrorism in a speech to the National Guard Association February 9.

Critics, who predicted his strategy of taking the fight to the terrorists would drive away international support, have found that the opposite has happened, Bush said.

“Today more governments are cooperating in the fight against terror than ever before,” the president said. And “many nations that once turned a blind eye to terror are now helping lead the fight against it,” he added, calling this a “most significant development.”

The president said that at the time of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, only three governments –- one of which was Pakistan -- recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which gave sanctuary to terrorists. But now Pakistani soldiers “are risking their lives in the hunt for al-Qaida,” he said.

The president also quoted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as saying, "Terrorism threatens to destabilize all modern societies. It cannot be condoned for any reason or cause."

Saudi Arabia, Bush said, has changed from a place where al-Qaida fund-raisers and facilitators plied their trade. Noting the Riyadh bombings of May 2003, he said, now the Saudi government recognizes that it is a prime terrorist target.

Since May 2003 bombings, Bush said, “Saudi forces have killed or captured nearly all the terrorists on their most-wanted list. They've reduced the flow of money to terror groups and arrested hundreds of radical fighters bound for Iraq.”

The president said that the terrorists “cannot hide the inhumanity of their ideology.”

Since 9/11, he noted, the majority of terrorist victims have been innocent Muslims. In the cities of Riyadh, Istanbul (Turkey), Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt), Jakarta, and Bali (Indonesia), all sites of terrorist attacks, “the people of those countries are starting to turn against the terrorists, he said.

“When people in the Arab world see al-Qaida murdering Iraqi children or blowing up mourners in an Iraqi mosque, their outrage grows,” Bush said.

After dozens were killed in November 2005 in the bombing of a Palestinian wedding in Amman, Jordan, Jordanians protested in the streets. One demonstrator, Bush said, carried a sign calling the attack, "Jordan's 9/11," while others chanted, "This is not Islamic. This is terrorism."

When it became known that the author of the attack was the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his own tribe denounced him, Bush said, saying they “disown him until Judgment Day." Zarqawi is the leader of the terrorist group, al-Qaida in Iraq.

“Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by spreading the hope of freedom to troubled regions of the world,” the president said.

The United States still has a long way to go in spreading “the hope of liberty across the broader Middle East,” Bush said. But the effort is necessary, he said, because free nations “don't wage wars of aggression … [and] don't give safe haven to terrorists.” Instead, they “replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against the terrorists.”

The president gave details about a 2002 terrorist plot against the United States that was foiled through cooperation with Southeast Asian governments. (See related article.)

A transcript of Bush’s remarks is available on the White House Web site.
-----------------------

Some related posts:

-U.S. Democracy Promotion, a Round-up

-Bush Will Not Retreat, U.S. To Advance Freedom

-Bush, Americans and Spreading Democracy

-Rice, Foreign Policy and Promoting Freedom

-WORLD FREEDOM 2005

-The Realities of Promoting Democracy

-Promoting Freedom and Democracy is a Vital Part of the War on Terror

-The bases of the U.S. Mideast policy

-Terror and democracy in the Middle East

-U.S. National Intelligence Strategy Highlights Democracy Promotion

-Iraq and Lebanon: Ongoing Liberation

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the current issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:


Palestine: New Parliament to Convene

The new 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council will meet February 18 to debate government formation. Hamas, whose Change and Reform list won 74 seats in addition to four independent seats, is expected to lead. The 45-seat Fatah parliamentary bloc elected MP Azzam Al Ahmad as its leader on February 11. Click here for final results of the January 25 elections released by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission.

The Election Cases Court on February 5 dismissed claims by Fatah that electoral violations necessitated new elections in the districts of Salfit, Nablus, Gaza, Khan Younis, and Jerusalem. The court similarly dismissed claims by Hamas that it had won 30 instead of 29 seats at the national level. A preliminary statement released on January 26 by the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center praised the orderly and peaceful conduct of the elections but also recorded instances of improper campaign activity and restricted freedom of movement and campaigning.

The outgoing Palestinian Legislative Council, in its final act, approved a new law on February 13 that gives President Mahmoud Abbas the authority to appoint a new constitutional court without seeking legislative approval. Hamas strenuously objected to the legislation.


Egypt: Municipal Elections Postponed, Ruling Party Changes

Egypt 's parliament approved by a 348-106 vote on February 14 a proposal by President Hosni Mubarak that municipal elections be delayed for two years. The mandate of Egypt's municipal officials was due to expire on April 16 and elections were to be organized within a two-month period before that date. According to NDP Secretary General and Shura speaker Safwat Al Sherif, the postponement is necessary to draft a new law intended to devolve authority to municipalities. The delay, however, is widely seen in Egypt as an attempt by the NDP to regroup after the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 of 454 seats in parliamentary elections in November. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot field a candidate for president under current rules because it is not a legal party, but if it elected enough supporters to the local councils and the Consultative Council it could eventually place an independent candidate onto the ballot.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) formed a new 29-member secretariat general on February 1 in a move observers believe signals a clear shift in the party in favor of younger members close to Gamal Mubarak. Gamal Mubarak became one of three assistant secretaries general replacing Kamal Al Shazli. A December 29, 2005 cabinet reshuffle also removed Al Shazli as minister of People's Assembly affairs and brought in several young technocrats. Click here for a list of the new cabinet.

Iraq: Election Results Final, Government Formation Begins

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced the final results of the legislative elections on February 10, almost two months after votes were cast. A new Iraqi government is expected to be in place by May. Under Iraq's constitution, President Jalal Talabani must convene the new 275-member parliament in the next 15 days. Parliament then has 30 days to elect a new president who in turn will have 15 days to name a new prime minister from the parliamentary bloc with the most seats—the coalition of Shiite religious parties. On February 12, the Shiite bloc selected Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister in the new cabinet. The leaders of the bloc hoped to resolve the contest between Jaafari and Adel Abdul Mahdi by consensus but ended up deciding the matter by a 64 to 63 vote. Jaafari's appointment must be confirmed by parliament and he will then have 30 days to present his cabinet to parliament for approval by majority vote. Formal negotiations between the different political groups about forming a coalition government have not started yet.

Voters in the December 15 poll overwhelmingly voted along religious and ethnic lines. The main Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 of the 275 seats (more than twice as many as any other group but ten seats short of a majority). The major Sunni parties, the Iraqi Concord Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue won 44 and 11 seats respectively. The Kurdistan Alliance won 53 seats and a rival Islamist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, won 5 seats. An independent Sunni candidate, Mithal Al Alusi, won one seat and the Progressive party (loyal to Moqtada Al Sadr) won two seats. Secular alliances did not perform well, winning fewer seats than in the previous election. The National Iraqi List led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won 25 seats and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi's National Congress for Iraq did not win any seats. Click here for detailed results of the elections.

Unlike the previous legislative election, voter turnout was high among Sunni Arabs. In the mostly Sunni Salahuddin and Anbar provinces, turnout was 96 and 86 percent respectively.

In response to allegations of fraud, the electoral commission threw out 227 of the nearly 32,000 ballots, but this had little effect on final results. A January 19 report by the Jordan-based International Mission for Iraqi Elections praised the elections as well-run under difficult conditions, but noted that some vote-rigging had been documented and that “some additional fraud in all probability went undetected, although its exact extent is impossible to determine under current circumstances.”

Kuwait: New Leader and Government

The January 15 death of Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Emir of Kuwait since 1977, sparked a succession struggle within the ruling Al Sabah family. The Kuwaiti parliament played a significant role in ending the political crisis by invoking a 1964 succession law and voting unanimously to remove Crown Prince Sheikh Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah for health reasons. The parliament confirmed Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the country's de facto ruler for the past five years, as the new emir on January 29. The new emir named his brother Sheik Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah (former interior minister and deputy prime minister) crown prince and appointed Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah as prime minister. Reformists welcomed the new emir's decision to keep the posts of crown prince and prime minister separate, as they have been since 2003. The appointments ignore a Kuwaiti political tradition that the position of the emir and other top posts should rotate between the family's two wings. Sheikh Sabah, Sheikh Nawaf and Sheikh Nasser are all members of the Jaber clan of the Sabah dynasty.

The emir also swore in a new cabinet on February 11 amid criticisms by liberal MPs that reformist former ministers were excluded from the government line-up. The 16-member cabinet excludes two leading liberal ministers and includes three prominent Islamists: Shiite MP Youssef Al Zalzalah as commerce and industry minister, member of the Islamic Constitutional Movement Ismail Al Shatti as communications minister, and Abdullah Abdulrahman Al Matouq as minister of justice and minister of Awqaf and Islamic affairs. Members of the ruling Al Sabah family continue to hold the key portfolios of interior, defense, foreign affairs, and energy. Massouma Al Mubarak, the only female minister, retained her post as minister of planning. Click here for a cabinet list.

In another development, the Kuwaiti parliament is debating a new draft press law presented by parliament's Educational Committee on December 17. The draft law prohibits the closure of newspapers without a final court verdict, bans the arrest and detention of journalists until a final verdict is delivered by the Supreme Court, and allows citizens whose applications for licenses are rejected to sue the government in court. It also bans jailing journalists for all but religious offenses, criticisms of the emir, and calls to overthrow the government, stipulating up to one year in jail for such offenses and a fine of up to KD 20,000 (about US $68,000). This last stipulation was the source of heated debate in parliament as liberal MPs called for abolishing all jail terms while Islamist MPs insisted that jail penalties must be greater for religious offenses. Another parliamentary committee, the Legal and Legislative Committee, unanimously approved a draft law requiring top government officials and MPs to disclose their wealth before assuming office and after leaving their posts as part of a measure to combat corruption.

United Arab Emirates: New Cabinet

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates since his father's death on November 2, 2005, approved a new cabinet on February 9. The top ministers—defense, interior, finance, economy, and energy—retained their posts and eight new ministers were introduced to the 21-member cabinet, including Minister of Social Affairs Miriam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi who is the second woman to join the cabinet. Several ministries were abolished including the Ministry of Information, which is to be replaced by a governmental Higher Information Council in charge of licensing new media. A Ministry of the Federal National Council Affairs was created to begin implementing the president's December 1 announcement that half of the members of the Federal National Council (FNC), the closest body the country has to a parliament, will be indirectly elected. No date has been set for elections. The 40-member FNC serves in an advisory capacity, but former members of the FNC have recently voiced demands for legislative powers. Click here for a cabinet list.

Yemen: Technocrat Cabinet

President Ali Abdullah Saleh reshuffled the Yemeni cabinet on February 11, a move observers believe is an attempt to bolster his popularity before presidential elections in September 2006. The reshuffle (including key posts such as the ministries of defense, finance, planning and oil) replaced long-serving veterans with technocrats. All 32 cabinet members belong to the ruling General People's Congress. Click here for a cabinet list.


Bahrain: Opposition Group Will Participate in Elections

Bahrain's largest political society, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, announced it will participate in legislative elections in September. Al Wefaq, along with four other political societies, boycotted the 2002 elections to protest constitutional changes that granted the appointed upper chamber of parliament equal legislative powers to the elected 40-seat lower chamber. Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa asserted on February 4 that he welcomes participation by opposition groups in parliamentary elections. Political groups operate in Bahrain as associations due to a continued ban on political parties.

Jordan: Political Reform Developments

A nine-member committee created last December by Minister of Interior Eid Fayez has begun drafting a political party law. Observers expect the new law to lead to the elimination of some of the present 30 parties by making a distinct platform and demonstrated popular support prerequisites for registration and by implementing tighter funding controls. Jordan's Islamic Action Front warned it would reject the draft law if it bans establishing parties based on religion. Political party law reform has been the subject of debate in Jordan for several years and forms part of the Jordanian National Agenda's vision for economic, social, and political reform over the next ten years. The National Agenda is now available online in Arabic.

While Jordan's government and parliament are discussing new legislation to expand media freedoms and political participation, King Abdullah's reform agenda has “stopped short of addressing the deep flaws in Jordan's criminal justice system” according to Human Rights Watch. A February 7 statement by the organization calls on the government to address urgently the access to lawyers, inadmissibility of confessions obtained by torture, and prosecution of rights violators. Under Jordanian law security forces can detain suspects in crimes under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court for seven days without charge or access to a lawyer.

North Africa: Human Rights Developments

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited several Tunisian prisons and met with detainees after it signed an agreement with the Tunisian government on April 26, 2005. The ICRC has similar agreements with Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Kuwait, but its reports are submitted exclusively to the authorities and are not made public. In another development, Tunisian authorities cracked down on the press by seizing all copies from newsstands on January 20 of the weeklies Al Maoukif (published by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party) and Akhbar al-Jumhuriyya for carrying an open letter to President Ben Ali referring to a corruption case. Click here for more details about this case.

The Moroccan government has also launched a series of criminal cases against the Moroccan press, including criminal prosecutions of newspaper editors and the imposition of excessive fines on independent publications. Three journalists face possible imprisonment as a direct result of news or opinions published in their weeklies. Click here for a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and here for a report by Reporters without Frontiers.

In Algeria, Bachir Larabi of the independent daily Al Khabar was arrested on January 21 on libel charges resulting from a December 9, 2003 article defaming a mayor. Click here for a report by the CPJ. Algerian authorities also closed two newspapers and arrested their editors on February 12 for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from a Danish newspaper.

The Libyan authorities have taken some important steps to improve human rights in the past year but continue to commit grave violations, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. “Libya: Word to Deeds; The Urgent Need for Human Rights Reform” argues that while the Libyan government has released political prisoners, improved prison conditions, and allowed human rights organizations to conduct fact-finding missions and advocacy in the country, it continues to ban political parties and groups, non-state run media and independent civic organizations. It also holds hold political prisoners, conducts unfair trials, and practices torture.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Bahrain: Municipal elections in May; legislative elections in September
  • Jordan: Municipal elections expected by mid-2006

2.06.2006

Apology to the Danish and Norwegian Peoples

I, as a Syrian, utterly condemn the barbaric aggression against the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on February 4, 2006 and present my sincere apology to the Danish and Norwegian peoples. I have been shocked by these irresponsible sorrowful incidents.

I can assure that the Syrian people, who do not currently enjoy the right of self-determination, would not behave in such manner. These incidents are unique and unfamiliar in the history of the peaceful and hospitable Syrian people, who always stress on the friendship with the Danish, Norwegian and all European and western peoples.

Day by day, what I always said on the totalitarianism become more and more obvious. I stress again that the totalitarianism constitutes an integrated and interdependent system including all its various aspects religious and ideological. It embeds, encourages and supports the violence culture and means at the domestic and international level and operates through alliances of convenience employing whatever needed of the violent means including terror to serve illegitimate political objectives and to fight the freedom.

Views on Arab Election

I want to highlight these two articles in the context of some current biased, short-sighted and politically-motivated information in the media and some think tanks.


"Happy Days!"

By Robert Kagan, William Kristol
The Weekly Standard, December 26, 2005

The purple ink on 11 million Iraqi fingers had not yet dried after an unprecedented, almost miraculous exercise in democratic freedom--and already there were querulous American critics working hard to make light of the whole thing. "Experts Cautious in Assessing Iraqi Election," ran the headline on a Friday Washington Post story by Robin Wright; "High Turnout, Low Violence a Positive Step, but Not a Turning Point, Analysts Say." And indeed, the indefatigable Ms. Wright had telephoned her usual cast of sour experts, each of whom was eager to help explain why, whatever else it might be, the peaceful election of a national assembly for a fully self-governing Arab democracy was Not a Turning Point. Elsewhere in the Post, former Clinton assistant secretary of state Susan Rice took the occasion of Iraq's elections to reject, with a bit of a sneer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's assertion that democracy in Iraq serves American security interests.

Funny, isn't it? We seem to remember that the Clinton administration's declared foreign policy doctrine was something called "democratic enlargement." No longer operative, it seems. Will any leading Democrat, other than Joe Lieberman, bring himself to unambiguously celebrate this eruption of democracy in the heart of the Arab world?

In Iraq, just about everyone is celebrating. "Happy days!" cheered Salim Saleh to a New York Times reporter. "Before, we had a dictator, and now we have this freedom, this democracy," Emad Abdul Jabbar, a 38-year-old Sunni, told the Times. "This time, we have a real election, not just the sham elections we had under Saddam, and we Sunnis want to participate in the political process." "We are so happy," Sahera Hashim told the Financial Times. "We hope for security, good life. We have suffered too much in the past." The mayor of Ramadi, an insurgent and Sunni stronghold, compared the elections to a wedding: "Right now, the city is experiencing a democratic celebration." Another Sunni man told a Post reporter, "All my neighborhood is voting. God willing, after the elections things will be good."

The biggest story of this election, apart from its obvious milestone character, is the staggeringly high Sunni turnout. In October we were being assured, by the usual experts, that the passage of the constitutional referendum was a disaster, another of many final nails in the coffin of Iraqi democracy: The Sunnis would now never participate in the electoral process. It turns out that they did participate, and they did so with eager anticipation that through the new democratic process their voices could be heard and their interests protected.

It also turns out that one of the major reasons Sunnis had not participated before was fear that they would be killed by terrorists and insurgents. This time, with 160,000 American troops and thousands of newly trained Iraqi soldiers and police, there was a sense of security. "Last time, if you voted, you died," Abdul Jabbar Mahdi, a Sunni, told the Times's Dexter Filkins. "God willing, this election will lead to peace." As Filkins notes, "Comments from Sunni voters, though anecdotal, suggested that a good number of them had stayed away from the polls in January not because they were disenchanted with the democratic process, but because they were afraid of being killed."

Not a turning point? The participation of the Sunnis in such high numbers by itself marks this election as a watershed. Either something dramatic has happened to Sunni attitudes, or true Sunni feelings were previously suppressed. Among the Sunnis he interviewed, the Times's John Burns found "a new willingness to distance themselves from the insurgency, an absence of hostility for Americans, a casual contempt for Saddam Hussein, a yearning for Sunnis to find a place for themselves in the post-Hussein Iraq." Zaydan Khalif, 33, wrapped himself in the Iraqi flag as he headed to the polls. "It's the national feeling," he explained. According to the Los Angeles Times, in Sunni-dominated Falluja voters chanted "May God protect Iraq and Iraqis." The majority of Sunnis appear to have decided to cast votes rather than plant bombs. One Sunni man told a reporter, "We do not want violence and for others to say Sunnis are spearheading the violence in Iraq." Amer Fadhel Hassani, a Sunni resident of Baghdad, said, "If we get more seats, it will be quieter. The ones who were absent in January will now have a voice."

They have a voice partly because of the apparent success of the recently adopted American/Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy of "clear and hold." There may now be a realization among Sunnis that the insurgency is not winning, and thus may not be the best way for them to recover their lost power--or even to strengthen their bargaining position. Sunni fence sitters seem to be tilting toward involvement in the political process. A more active counterinsurgency strategy--and the presence of 160,000 American troops--has not, as some predicted, reduced Sunni participation in the political process or engendered greater hostility and violence. On the contrary, the extra troops helped provide the security that made it safer for Sunnis and others to vote, and for democracy to take root. If American and Iraqi troops continue to provide basic security, and if Iraq's different sects and political groups now begin to engage in serious, peaceful bargaining, then we may just have witnessed the beginning of Iraq's future.

And not only Iraq's future. One 50-year-old Shiite schoolteacher told the Los Angeles Times, "I am proud as an Iraqi because our country is becoming a center of attraction for all Arab countries. The new situation in Iraq, the democratic system, is starting to put pressure on the Arab systems to make some changes toward democracy." Such thoughts cannot yet be freely expressed in the salons of Washington, D.C., and New York City. But they seem to make sense in today's Iraq.

Has this one election settled everything, or even anything? Is Iraq now safely on the path to a durable democracy? Of course not. One voter told a New York Times reporter, "Iraqis aren't used to democracy, we have to learn it." True enough. They will have to learn it, and this learning process will take time and be attended by many backward steps, many errors, and many crises. But now, at least, they have a chance.

Iraqis would not have had that chance had the United States chosen to leave Saddam Hussein in power. They would not have had that chance if American troops had been withdrawn or reduced from the already inadequate levels established after the invasion in 2003. And they will lose that chance if the United States now begins a hasty reduction of forces. Burns reports that even Sunnis unhappy with the American presence favor only a "gradual drawdown," and only if Iraq has achieved a sufficient level of security and stability. "Let's have stability, and then the Americans can go home," one Iraqi store owner told Burns. Informed that President Bush was saying exactly the same thing, this man replied: "Then Bush has said it correctly".
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Voting As Victory

Bush is right about elections on the Arab street — even if we don’t always like the results.

By Daniel Freedman

What critics of the Bush Doctrine fail to realize is that whatever happens in the Middle East — whether Islamists or secular democrats win in free elections — the policy of democratizing the Middle East creates a win-win situation for America and the free world. The Bush Doctrine finally provides a test for the now-famous Daniel Pipes statement that if the problem is radical Islam the solution is moderate Islam. The doctrine will test whether the Arab world is compatible with democracy and liberty or not. And if it's not, it's better we learn this now, when we're militarily stronger and better placed for the clash of civilizations that such a conclusion entails.

It's more likely that the pessimists — those who believe that Arabs/Muslims are not suited for democracy and will turn to radical Islamist parties — are wrong. While they may point to Iranian-backed Islamists winning in Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood increasing its share of the vote in Egypt, and the predictions that Hamas is set to do very well in the Palestinian Arab elections, and they may charge that democracy looks set to replace secular dictators with (in their view) far-worse theocrats, what the pessimists miss is that elections do not a democracy make. The success or failure of the Bush Doctrine cannot be judged on a few elections.

A liberal democracy is one that has a free press, a vibrant civil society, and property rights. A liberal democracy is not born overnight with the defeat of a dictator. In fact the defeat of a dictator actually portends to the likelihood of an initial victory for religious parties. This is because dictators usually clamp down on any civil-society movements and the only alternative power structure that exists is based around the mosque. This means that after the dictatorship falls secular democrats are starting from scratch while the Islamists have their voter-base and organization all set up. Only after the secular parties have a chance to organize and grow, and civil society develops, will the true appeal of the Islamic parties be seen.

But even if the pessimists are right, even if democracy for the Arab world means democratically elected Wahhabi or Tehran-style rule, even if the Arab street embraces radical rather than moderate Islam, it's to our advantage that we discover this now. It still wasn't a mistake to remove Saddam and it's not a mistake to push for democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and co. The old policy of backing our "sons of bitches" in Cairo and Riyadh gave us the majority of the terrorists and funding for the September 11, 2001, attacks. And America was unable to punish them for their complicity because were "our sons of ------." To say that the status quo worked is to be living in a September 10, 2001, world.

But if the pessimists are right it is to our advantage that we discover now that the Arab world and Islam is fundamentally incompatible with our liberal democratic values, and that their goal of seeking a global caliphate means they are permanently at war with everything we stand for. If the clash of civilizations is inevitable, it's better we learn this when we're stronger, when we have the stronger military and the nuclear weapons, and can defeat them in an all-out war and destroy them before they destroy us.

If as free individuals, as democrats, the citizens of the Arab world effectively declare war against us by voting in Islamists who wish to kill every non-Muslim, then we have every justification to go to war against them. It's much better that the world has learned the true intentions of the theocrats in Tehran — their desire to wipe Israel and America off the map — before they've acquired nuclear weapons. If the shah was still in power and as "our son of a -----" the American government didn't stop him acquiring nuclear weapons, and the Islamic revolution happened in post-nuke 2007 rather than pre-nuke 1979, the world would be a far more dangerous place.

If the pessimists are right then the president has done the free world a huge favor by exposing the inevitable clash of civilizations at a point in history where we will triumph. And if the pessimists are wrong, he's done the Arab world a favor as well.

Daniel Freedman is online editor of the New York Sun and blogs.

2.02.2006

Bush Will Not Retreat, U.S. To Advance Freedom

The liberals and democratic reformers in the Middle East are encouraged and strengthened by the State of the Union address by President Bush. Our long-awaited dreams have the chance now to become real. And we will not accept less than freedom, democracy and peace in the Middle East.

President Bush is not just an idealist; he is a realist too. He realistically understands that freedom, democracy and consequently security must be for all or they will be threatened where they are. He knows that the only sustainable way to protect America and the American freedom and prosperity is the international system of freedom. He also knows clearly – although many Americans are still not – that the other's isolationism had brought the 9/11 to America in its powerful age with thousands of Americans had been murdered on the American land by some terrorist thugs.

To defeat terror in the world you must defeat totalitarianism, which uses every violent means including terror to fight freedom and the free world. I will keep talking and explaining until the majority of Americans understand the facts about totalitarianism and the current totalitarian-regimes thugs' behavior in the Middle East and world. As a researcher experienced the totalitarianism all his life, I can say that the Middle East freedom is not just a Middle Eastern necessity; it is a world and American necessity. I hope you and we do not experience that more.

Here are the extremely important and historic foreign policy excerpts of the State of the Union address:

[…]

Abroad, our Nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal – we seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. Today, there are 122. And we are writing a new chapter in the story of self-government – with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan … and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink … and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half – in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran – because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well.

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam – the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death. Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder – and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder. Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. When they murder children at a school in Beslan … or blow up commuters in London … or behead a bound captive … the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will – by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself – we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil.

America rejects the false comfort of isolationism. We are the Nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed, and move this world toward peace.

We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders – and for the others, their day will come.

We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan – where a fine president and national assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy.

And we are on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory. First, we are helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased, and the insurgency marginalized. Second, we are continuing reconstruction efforts, and helping the Iraqi government to fight corruption and build a modern economy, so all Iraqis can experience the benefits of freedom. Third, we are striking terrorist targets while we train Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy. Iraqis are showing their courage every day, and we are proud to be their allies in the cause of freedom.

Our work in Iraq is difficult, because our enemy is brutal. But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, that nation has gone from dictatorship, to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds, and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces. I am confident in our plan for victory … I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people … I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.

The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels – but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.

Our coalition has learned from experience in Iraq. We have adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by Members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.

Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison … put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country … and show that a pledge from America means little. Members of Congress: however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our Nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.

[…]

Our offensive against terror involves more than military action. Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change. So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. Elections are vital – but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote. The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election – and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections – now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace. Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform – now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts. Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity.

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon – and that must come to an end. The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions – and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, fighting disease, and spreading hope in hopeless lands. Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need. We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, and the drug trade.

In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform. For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Short-changing these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security, and dull the conscience of our country. I urge Members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America.

[…]

In all these areas – from the disruption of terror networks, to victory in Iraq, to the spread of freedom and hope in troubled regions – we need the support of friends and allies. To draw that support, we must always be clear in our principles and willing to act. The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world. Yet we also choose to lead because it is a privilege to serve the values that gave us birth. American leaders – from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan – rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march. Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy – a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress. And tonight I ask for yours. Together, let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom.

[…]
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Some related posts:

-Bush, Americans and Spreading Democracy

-Rice, Foreign Policy and Promoting Freedom

-WORLD FREEDOM 2005

-The Realities of Promoting Democracy

-Promoting Freedom and Democracy is a Vital Part of the War on Terror

-The bases of the U.S. Mideast policy

-Terror and democracy in the Middle East

-U.S. National Intelligence Strategy Highlights Democracy Promotion

-Iraq and Lebanon: Ongoing Liberation

-Defining the Iraqi Question